Thursday, December 8, 2016

Genealogical Journey: A Few More Back Stories Before "The Story"

Brother Francis Sullivan, second from right, seven years old in  1925,  Easter Sunday, Staten Island, NY. Photo by his father, James J. Sullivan

It's not the destination but the journey along the way that makes the trip interesting.  And so it was with my genealogical journey.  Before I tell you Timothy O'Sullivan's story, I am going to tell you some other family members' stories. Some have passed on, others are still living.  It was because of my interest in Timothy O'Sullivan, that these other stories came to light.  Maybe that is what genealogy is really all about:  connecting with your living relatives.  At least it is for me anyway.

I am going to start with my father's first cousin Bill Sullivan.  No, not the Bill Sullivan featured throughout this blog; he is my second cousin.  Bill was named after his uncle Bill Sullivan, whom this blog post is about.

                                          Brother Francis Sullivan

The year was 1988.  "Dad, I am joining the Peace Corps.  I am going to Africa."  Among other things, Dad said, "I'll get my cousin's address from Aunt Peggy.  He is also in Africa."  Thus began my correspondence with Brother Francis Sullivan born Bill Sullivan.  Unfortunately, none of those letters between us survived, but in this case I have first-hand knowledge of their content.  We wrote to each other about our posts in Africa; mine in Togo, West Africa, his in Tanzania, East Africa.  Timothy O'Sullivan was never mentioned but somehow I felt his spirit of travel and interest in other cultures connected us.  Brother Francis, as I took to addressing him, wrote about the wildebeest migration and the schools he was helping to build.  He had been there for thirty-five years at that time.  I had arrived in Togo, West Africa only a few months earlier.  I felt I could learn a lot from him.  My two-year stint in the Peace Corps ended and somehow so did our correspondence.  I left Africa without ever meeting him.  The geographic distance between us was the comparable to the distance between California and New York.  He stayed.  Life went on.  Decades passed.  Then my addiction to genealogy took hold.

Brother Francis's address in my Grandmother's address book.  She was his Aunt. 

One of the genealogy envelopes my second cousin, the other Bill Sullivan, sent me, contained articles about Brother Francis.  He had passed in 2009 at the age of 90 and is buried in Tanzania.  Sad to say, I was sorry that I didn't keep up my correspondence with him. Let me honor his life here by including those two articles his namesake sent me.  Remember to scroll left and right, top and bottom to read the entire articles.

I noticed the first article was written by a Mark Sullivan.  Perusing the online family tree, I saw that  my second cousin Ed had a son named Mark. There was also a Mark Sullivan on my email list for the blog.  Was this his son?  No, it wasn't.  Ed too, wondered who this Mark Sullivan was as he also saw his email address on the blog list, but knew it was not his son Mark's.  So I emailed Mark to ask where his place was on the family tree and to see if we could talk about Brother Francis.  Mark and I spoke on the phone where he confirmed that he had written the article titled God's Truck Drivin' Man ( article above) and his place on the family tree.  (He was my second cousin Jim's son; Brother Francis was his Great-uncle.) Mark also wrote to Brother Francis and unlike me, saved all of his letters.  We learned that he did tend to write the same letter over and over; wildebeest migration patterns, weather, building projects, etc.  Mark said he had met his "Uncle Billy" a few times but he was a quiet man, not forthcoming with information or stories about his own life.  He did say that he was a devout Catholic, attending mass daily. He hated the commies ( Communists).  His flying experiences causing death and destruction in WWII ( he was a gunner in the Army Air Corps) impacted his life thereafter with the need to do only good; thus joining the Spiritan Missionaries.  My Dad said Brother Francis wanted to be a priest, but was too old at 31 after WWII,  so he became a Brother in the Congregation of the Holy Spirit instead.

Mark said that he will pull out his letters from "Uncle Billy".  He also has a mass card and was able to attend a mass given for Brother Francis by the Spiritans in Pittsburg at the time of his passing. Before we hung up, Mark added that "Uncle Billy" was also good at identifying people in family photos, correcting a few that were mislabeled.  I said I was planning a trip to the East Coast next summer to continue my genealogy research.  I added that I hoped we could meet.  He agreed saying he wold like to show his children some of the ancestral places on Staten Island.  The genealogical journey continues.

Mark Sullivan, standing far right.  Photo: Bill Sullivan

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